The first annual Books Alive! 2013 conference was a terrific all-day event for authors (published and aspiring) and book lovers. It was sponsored by the Washington Independent Review of Books and held June 8 in suburban Maryland at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. It featured panelists and speakers on writing, publishing (including self-publishing), marketing, publicity, promotion, platforms, income and related topics. Attendees also had the option of pitching book ideas in brief individual meetings with a variety of literary agents.

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The luncheon speaker, Maria Arana, detailed her fascinating career working in publishing, editing, reporting and writing books, including her memoir American Chica and the new biography Bolívar. Two of the afternoon panels required making choices: DC/Baltimore Crime Noir or Fiction; and Biography vs. Memoir. That meant I missed hearing a couple of the big name crime authors (George Pelecanos and Laura Lippman), but the fiction panel (Alice McDermott, Keith Donohue and Susan Coll; moderated by Kathryn Johnson) was illuminating. A key takeaway: writing, as difficult and frustrating as it can be, should be its own motivation and reward; beyond money, accolades and awards. McDermott, a National Book Award winner, said that as soon as you win an award, someone is likely to write an essay about why you didn’t deserve it.

It was a perfect day for networking, with constant opportunities for serendipity. Several friends had featured roles: Deborah Kalb, who conducts the Books Q&A website, moderated the New Platforms, New Media, New Ways to Sell Your Book panel. Paul Dickson, one of the most prolific authors on the planet, was a panelist in The State of the Market: Opportunities and Challenges, and Thomas Mann of the Library of Congress, author of The Oxford Guide to Library Research, was a panelist for Researching, the final session of the day.

Books Alive conference registration; Photo by David Gelin

Books Alive conference registration; Photo by David Gelin

I’ll post again on Books Alive later this week. In the meantime, the Review has posted its own wrap-up, including the insight from Paul Dickson that in marketing books, “timidity is its own punishment.”